Sunday, May 29, 2005

¡Baila Conmigo!

¡Baila conmigo! In Spanish, it means "dance with me!" The sentiment I applaud, and I know of no other language in which the words themselves sound so beautiful.

This weekend was San Francisco's Carnaval, a two-day celebration of Latin dance and Latin culture, a tradition in the Mission District since the days of President Jimmy Carter. I caught only the very tail end of the second day, but I enjoyed strolling through the Mission on a sunny afternoon. California is generally more culturally diverse than the rest of the United States. San Francisco is generally more culturally diverse than the rest of California. The Mission is generally more culturally diverse than the rest of San Francisco. Walk down the street past a Chinese restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, an Indian/Pakistani restaurant (on the same menu with no nuclear bombs!), a Mexican restaurant, a Salvadoran restaurant, a Nicaraguan restaurant, a Korean grocery that carries really good Vietnamese ingredients, and, of course, Walgreen's, McDonald's, and the Krishna Hotel. You'll hear salsa, merengue, Japanese pop music, and, of course, hip-hop, plus a dozen other styles of music I couldn't even name.

There is tension in the Mission District as different ethnicities and lifestyles and religious beliefs come together in tight quarters. To be sure, there are a lot of Catholics and a lot of services in Spanish, but there's also a Lutheran Church with Sunday services in German, not to mention buddhist, Jewish, and who knows what others -- even a mosque. For nightlife, straight clubs, gay clubs, lesbian clubs, and even transgender clubs compete side by side. There's a funky movie theater that shows just about anything, and live theater on a more personal scale than a big Broadway production. There are also gang turf wars and drug dealers and homeless people (some sane, some not so much), but on the whole the mixture works better than you might think.

It made me reflect on the 2004 Presidential election. The place with the most direct experience of the terrorist threat, New York City, voted 9-to-1 against President Bush, clearly convinced that he was not the man to foster harmony between the United States and the rest of the world. Ground Zero is about as "blue" as blue can be. The people of Utah, who are about as likely to be struck by Elvis' spaceship as by terrorists, insisted otherwise.

America and the world need more Mission Districts, and fewer cookie-cutter suburbs. Diversity is a greater source of strength than of conflict.